Pass-Through World Missions or Authentic Partnership?

Pass-Through World Missions
or Authentic Partnership?
Nathanael S. Turner


The world missions program carried out by the Foreign Missions Division (FMD) of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) is facing a struggle of competing priorities. On the one hand, all would agree that the essential priority of the missions endeavor is the work of missionaries on the field. On the other hand, over the course of a term of foreign service, the necessary resources for the work are normally depleted, and in the current support raising system, this requires the UPCI international missionary to leave the field for long periods of time to seek those resources. From 1995 to 2004, the average time of travel for deputizing career missionaries increased by 5.3 months, or 44%, to 17.3 months. Most recently, this has rocketed to a minimum of 24 months.

Thomas Oden, writing on pastoral theology, notes that, [S]hepherding cannot be done at a sterile distance, and [b]y definition there cannot be an absentee shepherd. In the same way that a North American pastor would not be expected to leave his or her church for six months to twenty-four months because of the damage such a move would threaten to inflict upon the integrity of the assembly, it seems reasonable that a missionary should not be expected to leave his or her field for such an amount of time. This concern, by itself, raises a serious objection to keeping as standard a support raising and partnership building model that involves a very lengthy deputation.

There certainly can be a place for furloughs and deputation travels. They provide opportunities for the missionary to raise awareness of world missions in local churches and to celebrate with them what God has done in distant lands. However, with up to one-third of an international missionary’s ministry being spent traveling on deputation, the good that comes from these travels begins to be endangered by the bad. This conflict of interests now challenges the effectiveness of the missionary support raising paradigm being used.

The key to this dilemma may be found in the idea that the work of world missions in the UPCI can be better supported by increased authenticity in the partnerships between specific local sending churches and missionaries. While the partnership paradigm in which the UPCI operates implies a generally consistent model of local church involvement, not all churches operate the same way in reality. In fact, it could be that in reality churches may vary widely in their level of commitment and participation. Bruce Camp of DualReach, which assists churches in balancing local and international ministry in a holistic strategy, proposes the following categories of local church missions commitment:

1. Supporting: Traced back to the 1970s in evangelical churches in America, this predominant paradigm conceives of the local church as supportive of and dependent on the initiative and strategy of mission agencies. The pass-through deputation model is relied upon to raise support, and the focus of this paradigm is on money. Often, support on a more personal level including prayer support is limited, due to a superficial level of interaction between the local church and the missionary.

2. Sending: With roots seeming to form in the 1980s, the thinking of this less common paradigm is concerned with the role of the local church as sender. While local churches may make use of mission agencies, services, their level of dependency on them has diminished, and these churches take ownership of their role, proactively pursuing a strategy that focuses on direct involvement with missionaries and their work. Some local churches even bypass mission agencies, choosing to send missionaries directly. Rather than extensive deputations, local churches build deeper relationships with missionaries, and the focus of this paradigm is on people. Sometimes the strings attached to support by these local churches discourage missionaries from confining themselves to this paradigm.

3. Synergistic: As the name suggests, this emerging paradigm with its roots in the 1990s involves combined efforts which are more effective when made together than their sum when made separately. Often combining their efforts with other local churches, their inter-dependent approach concentrates on making maximum impact upon a smaller set of ministries.

Additionally, local churches in America combine their efforts with those of missionaries and ministers of other nations. Technology enables frequent personal communication with missionaries, and visits to the mission field by church members are encouraged. Initiatives by mission agencies are scrutinized according to their actual effectiveness rather than rhetoric before making commitments, and these agencies are expected to respond quickly to brief windows of opportunities in a rapidly changing world. While emphasizing deeper personal relationships between the local church and the missionaries it supports, the focus of this paradigm is on maximizing existing opportunities and empowering people to become meaningfully involved in outreach.

With these paradigms in mind, the local assemblies of the UPCI in the United States and Canada with a few notable exceptions would seem to fit into the supporting category. While this category is good in its use of organization, and it gets the job done, the second category can be better, in the sense that there is a dramatic upward shift in the level of personal commitment and local ownership in the work of missions. Many progressive churches are adopting the model used in this category, and there is today an unmistakable trend toward missions-minded churches assuming agency roles, as they become more proactive. On the other hand, this more independent approach can lose some connection with the larger body of Christ that should be joining together for world evangelization. The third category, then, may be the best of the three, because it makes use of the strengths of both the first and second categories.

The Local Church: The Hope of the World

The greatest need in UPCI world missions today is adjusting the very paradigm through which the church operates. This kind of paradigm shift is exactly what Camp observes happening in evangelical churches in the United States. “The world missions paradigm of the local church is changing,” he warns, “and until more congregations recognize the new paradigm and act accordingly,” whatever relevant, contemporary missions strategy an organization wants to implement will probably be undermined from the start.

What is really needed in the deepest sense is to rediscover authentic partnership between the local church and the foreign missionary in the UPCI. The kind of partnership needed is not merely nominal monetary partnership, as so many UPCI churches falling into Camp’s supporting paradigm have limited themselves to, but a deeper, more meaningful, genuine partnership that operates through a synergistic paradigm, taking advantage of the strengths of a centralized agency and extensive local church initiative.

In keeping with Camp’s first paradigm, in the current missions support model used in the UPCI, one missionary may be supported by hundreds of local churches and individuals, each generally contributing a small percentage of the missionary’s budget. In turn, one local church may support forty or even all 354 missionaries commissioned by the organization. This model does not lend itself to awareness of and personal interaction and identification with the individual missionaries, because with many missionaries being supported in this way, the local church’s attention is spread too thin.

While this approach does indeed produce finances needed for missions work and demonstrates a concern for missions work, typically this model has produced missions support that is somewhat disconnected and generally impersonal. At large conferences, there may be at times a sense that the faceless church organization is what is sending the missionaries, rather than individual congregations and people. This is reflected in the feeling that it is in the exclusive domain of the organization�s missions agency, the FMD, to take responsibility and initiative for strategizing, sending missionaries and actually doing the work of world missions.

The consequence of this perception is that most churches relegate themselves to merely a passive supporting role in world missions. They have no real personal responsibility beyond finances and prayer connecting them to the work of missions, which they can begin to view in the impersonal terms of dollar amount per soul. Most churches fund the work of many missionaries, with whom they have little and infrequent direct interaction. In general, the day-to-day focus in this kind of supporting relationship very often rests squarely on the money.

Examining the process of support raising and partnership building for world missions cannot be done outside of the context of mission and its overarching importance. The mission of the church supercedes every function and structural aspect of the Church. The proper perspective in partnership sees missions as more than merely an equal member of the set of ministries of the local church, but as a direct expression of the central mission of the assembly. Tom Telford echoes other missiological writers when he declares that local church members “all need to see missions not as just another program in the church, vying for the people’s attention and resources, but as the umbrella under which all the other ministries work.” Missions encapsulate the grand purpose and the very identity of every local church. From this perspective, it is inadequate to express a local church’s world missions involvement only by passive types of support.

An excellent example of the proactive synergistic model being put to practice is found in the case of Park Street Church, a 200-year-old, 2,000-member Boston church, that created a radical new missions policy aimed at deepening the bond between its local assembly and its sponsored missionaries. At the heart of the new policy was an absolute paradigm shift in the way the church and its sponsored missionaries viewed one another and how they thought of the other’s ministry.

This is reflected in the concept that missionaries became thought of as members of [the] church’s ministerial staff. Park Street Church committed to funding 100% of the missionaries budgets and asked missionaries to do three things in return. First, they would treat Park Street Church as their home church. Second, without diminishing the indispensable role of missions agencies, they would seek to involve Park Street Church in any and all major decisions that affect[ed] their ministries. Third, during their furloughs, missionaries would spend their time at Park Street Church. In fact, the church felt that furloughs should be designed mainly for rest, time with family, further study, writing and significant fellowship and ministry at Park Street Church in keeping with the missionary’s gifts. As of the year 2000, the church fully supported 14 missionaries and partially supported several others, giving a total of $1.25 million per year to missions. Its synergistic ideology, as Bruce Camp would term it, seems to be working beautifully.

What is fascinating and engaging for a UPCI reader of Telford’s account of Park Street Church is the reasoning that is presented as a context for the policy decision that was made. Telford quotes the church’s Missions Committee as it outlines the ensuing process that produced the new policy.
[I]ncreased administrative costs for missions agencies, inflation and diminished missions giving at Park Street forced an adjustment in the original policy. Rather than reduce the number of missionaries being supported, it was decided to reduce the amount of support to be offered to each missionary. Consequently most missionaries have to maintain relationships with a large number of supporting churches, which are often spread out over a vast geographical area. Missiologists have long lamented the obvious inefficiency, impracticality and inadequacy of such a system of support.

This sounds very much like the supporting-paradigm context in which the UPCI missionaries and supporting churches in the United States and Canada find themselves. While this system has worked for many years, and undoubtedly might continue indefinitely, it certainly can be improved to make the relationship between the missionary and the supporting local church more meaningful and resultantly more effective, as they work together to carry out the mission of God.

The Trap of Over-Institutionalization

Organizationally speaking, the UPCI is seen essentially as a fellowship of licensed ministers and affiliated local churches. Over the years, its organizational mechanism has been more and more refined in quality and service to the mission of the church. There is no question as to the enormous benefit of joining together in unity and organizing to do the work of the church. In fact, the same is true in world missions partnerships. Two are definitely better than one.

As the UPCI advances in its organizational efficiency, the challenge exists of balancing the advantages of organization with the need for individual responsibility and drive, especially considering the UPCI’s congregational model of church government. Too much centralized initiative and influence can stifle that of the local church. Whether central or local, human responsibility and initiative is also held in what can be and should be a healthy tension with human reliance on the work of the Spirit. It is that ever present tension between heaven and earth; the God of mission and His chosen instrument of mission, the church.

Edward Keith Pousson writes stirringly in Pneuma that both Pentecostals and Charismatics must avoid the trap of over institutionalization. Renewal creates new patterns and structures for ministry and missions. But eventually, these become organizations that quench the Spirit. As movements become mature institutions, they tend to “domesticate” the Spirit and the kingdom of God. When this happens, God always sparks a renewal somewhere on the periphery of the ecclesiastical structures of the day. Then, old wine skins often burst rather than stretch to accommodate the new things God is doing. The question for Pentecostals and Charismatics is this: how can they continue to provide the necessary structures and strategies for evangelism, missions and church growth without quenching spontaneous spiritual dynamics? Traditional centralized, hierarchical institutions are increasingly ineffective for cross-cultural missions, while informal Third World models and strategies are multiplying and becoming increasingly effective.

UPCI General Superintendent Kenneth Haney brought up the struggle against over institutionalization in his annual address at the UPCI General Conference in September, 2005. In reference to the UPCI World Evangelism Center office building in a suburb of St. Louis, Haney emphasized that “St. Louis is not the Vatican. The grassroots is where the revival is.”

On the part of the FMD, Foreign Missions General Director Bruce Howell has made mention of this refocus on the grassroots, writing in his annual letter to the UPCI Board of General Presbyters in 2005, “We are continuing to push decision making down to the grass roots level.” Daniel Scott also brought up the concern of over institutionalization in the context of the Global Council.

Institutions need to continually be revived. It is well established that new doctrines are not to be entertained, but new methods for ministry and missions should remain the priority of the leadership. Much like the mother of Samuel taking new garments to a growing child, new patterns and new methods will address the effectiveness of world missions. The church while answering these needs must keep the program simple and not succumb to the temptation to over institutionalize the church body.

Celebrating Local Church Investment in World Missions

Amidst the present challenges there is reason to rejoice and to look into the future with hope.
This reason is not just based upon new paradigms and methods, but on a deeper, proven characteristic that already is very much a part of the values, thinking and practices of the UPCI. Grant McClung, notes that “Pentecostals have traditionally, since their inception, given generously to the cause of missions,” and that “Pentecostals are doing the job because they put their money where their heart is.” The United Pentecostals are certainly no exception.

Considering the financial aspect of partnerships, funding from local churches has enabled the work of missions to continue forward for six decades in the UPCI. In the year from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005, the UPCI Foreign Missions Division received a grand total funding of $27,593,811.44. Of that grand total, $8,126,796.82 was contributed by the 56,785 members of 570 churches in the United States and Canada that provided their Sunday school attendance for FMD per capita calculations, at an average per capita contribution of $143.12 per year. The 3,537 churches in the US and Canada cooperating with the FMD’s world missions giving program gave an average of $522.85 per month to world missions, with an aggregate total of approximately $1,849,312.94 per month given to missions.
This is cause to celebrate. This kind of generosity confirms that regardless of the system in place for supporting world missions, the heart of the UPCI is in the right place. The organization certainly has come a long way from its early days, as far as sheer amount of missions commitment, and has preserved the passion for missionary efforts that has characterized it from the beginning. In the face of the challenges this paper engages, this is an encouraging reminder that the situation is not a grim one. In the big scheme of things, the United Pentecostal Church International in the United States and Canada is a missionary movement, and the people making up the vast majority of its local churches are missions-minded Christians. Fortunately, what seems to be needed is not so much a stimulation of basic missions passion; rather, it is merely a retooling of the support raising system and a stimulation of local initiative in missions partnerships.

In the present supporting paradigm system, the world missions support raising effort that is made at annual conferences provides a tremendous opportunity for funding and at times even for relationships to be formed in a way that avoids the time and expense of going from church to church on deputation travels. The largest annual conference that has specifically set aside time for this purpose is the General Conference of the UPCI. During the annual Foreign Missions Service held on September 30, 2005 in Richmond, Virginia, $989,212.23 was given in cash and pledges. One result of this outpouring was that ten missionary families were able to stop deputizing and return to the field. This was similar to what happened the year before in Salt Lake City, when over $33,000 of monthly Partners In Missions support was raised, effectively ending the deputation travels of ten of the missionaries in attendance. Howell reported that year that “We saved over $800,000 on deputation expenses by being able to send these missionaries back to the field, and we are so thankful to God for that.” Indeed, the cost of sending one missionary family from church to church for one year of deputation is unofficially estimated at $100,000. The thought is staggering.

In addition to the General Conference are district and sectional conferences. These meetings provide closer access to the grassroots level of the organization and have been used in the past to promote the programs of the FMD. When the Partners In Missions (PIM) program was first initiated, former General Director of Foreign Missions T. F. Tenney recalls that he and others traveled to district conferences and other meetings to explain the new system.

In recalling the three-years it took to for the PIM program to become the accepted means of support raising in the UPCI, Tenney remarked that one cannot just make a new policy and change everything from the top. It has to come from the grassroots. The system was organized in the districts, with each district electing its own district foreign missions director to act as a liaison between the district and the FMD. Although scheduling missionary deputation services in the district has become the main task of these district directors, their position along with a possible sectional directorship holds enormous potential for energizing the grassroots of the UPCI in doing the work of missions in partnership with the FMD. Rather than merely being managers for a centralized missions program coming out of the FMD agency, these directors hold the potential to initiate or coordinate programs and efforts, while staying in harmony with the agency.

Fresh Ideas in the UPCI

After he entered office as General Director of Foreign Missions in 1970, Tenney formed a committee of pastors to study the program and policies of the FMD. Scott explains that “This committee would provide the local church pastor’s viewpoint.” Out of these meetings, “[m]any progressive recommendations were made for updating the present policy as well as other forward moves for the foreign missionary endeavor of the church.”

Drawing on the viewpoint of the local pastor, in February 2005 under the leadership of General Director Bruce Howell, the FMD hosted an invitational roundtable discussion with the pastors and leaders of the top giving churches. Of the 100 pastors or their representatives who were invited to come, eighty ministers, including a number of assistants and ministry team members, came together to brainstorm. In Howell’s February 2005 Communiqu, to the world missionary family, he reported, We had a very successful Top 100 Pastors Round Table, and it was very positive. many ideas and proposals were expressed. These proposals will be used in the future of our administration. This initiative is one example that serves to highlight the fact that the FMD continues to demonstrate leadership as it seeks to fulfill the emerging needs of world missions and move the missions enterprise of the UPCI into the future. At the same time, it recognizes the vital role and influence of the local pastor. As the hard questions are being asked and healthy discussion is being nurtured, progressive thinking and fresh ideas are rising to the surface.

The Pastor

The pastor more than any other individual, not excepting the Mission secretary, has the opportunity of influencing missionary recruiting, praying, and giving. But that influence will be exerted, and be effective, only in the measure in which he himself has caught the missionary vision.

As an organization generally following the congregational model of government, it is fitting that in a discussion about leadership, many reflect Robert Hall Glover’s statement presented above and place emphasis not only on the missions agency leadership, but on local church leadership.

While he or she may appoint others in the local assembly to organize and implement support raising initiatives, it is ultimately the pastor who sets the vision and tone for the assembly’s involvement in missions work. It is what the pastor emphasizes before the people that the people will emphasize in their own lives and in the life of the church.

There are a great number of methods for the local pastor to initiate in order to augment support raised by the traditional deputation model and to relieve the missions program’s dependence on that model. In his book, Today’s All Star Missions Churches, Tom Telford presents six specific ways in which local North American pastors can mobilize a more meaningful missions program in their churches. These include holding missions conferences, setting up liaisons between the local church and the missionary, engaging in direct partnerships with ministries in other countries, sponsoring or organizing missions trips, promoting and engaging in ministry to foreigners in the local area, and volunteering in community service.

�Short-term missions trips, either through the auspices of the organization or the local church itself, provide a powerful means of engaging individual church members in the actual work of missions. Going to minister alongside the missionary and to the missionary creates an opportunity for both giving and receiving. Spiritual and ministry gifts are shared, and there is a healthy exchange that expresses the cooperative nature of the global mission of the church.

UPCI General Superintendent Kenneth Haney writes in his vision-casting book The Irresistible Wave of Revival, Revelation, Revolution, which he sent to all UPCI licensed ministers,
We are, going to experience the need for many North American pastors to carry a greater responsibility in going to other nations and teaching this message to the open-minded, hungry-hearted ministers that God is leading to this great revelation. Of course, this will be orchestrated and given direction by the Foreign Missions Division.

Whereas in the past, the primary way in which pastors in the United States and Canada supported the work of missions around the world was to give money, under the ideal schema for a return to more authentic partnership, pastors would begin to become more directly involved in missions.

The Local Church as the Focus

From the local UPCI church’s standpoint, how is it possible to realize more-authentic partnership with its missionaries through a synergistic missions paradigm that uses the services of the FMD?

The pastor’s own mentality and action as well as the pastor’s leadership role of influencing the mentality and action of the local church and its members is what will make the difference. This will mean stimulating pastors and congregations to become more involved in their missionaries, lives and ministries, and it will mean educating them as to what is possible in and through their local church with regard to world missions. This will mean the loosening of some of FMD’s day-to-day role in the work of world missions and the delegating of some responsibility and authority back to the local churches. This will mean turning on its head the notion that hundreds of local churches support the world missions work of one agency and its missionaries, so that, instead, one agency will support the world missions work of hundreds of local churches and their missionaries. Most importantly, this will mean narrowing the focus of local church missions commitment to improve its intensity, a move from great quantity to greater quality, from supporting many missionaries in a small way to supporting a few missionaries in a greater way.

The key in the whole process will be the local church’s ability to reconnect with its responsibility and vision for mission and the Great Commission. Scott says it well: “Every local church pastor must consider himself as the necessary key to a successful world evangelism program.” When this happens through authentic partnership, and not, it could be added, mere nominal monetary support, then, as Scott expresses, “[t]he local church and the missionary become a team an unbeatable team destined to win, and blessed of God.”

The above article, “Pass-Through World Missions or Authentic Partnership?” is written by Nathanael S. Turner. The article was excerpted from the 2006 Symposium.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.